Santa Ana Speckled Dace and California Freshwater Fish Populations Face Decline

Nichole Smith

The Santa Ana speckled dace and freshwater fish populations in California are rapidly declining. In a press release discussing the Santa Ana speckled dace, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Jeff Miller stated that “We’ve already lost seven of our state’s unique freshwater fish species to extinction, and it’d be a shame for California to lose any more.” 

A petition by the Center for Biological Diversity to list the Santa Ana speckled dace under the endangered species act was filed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on May 11, 2020. According to the petition, “Santa Ana speckled dace are highly vulnerable to extinction in the next 50 years.” 

The petition credits the dace’s declining population to “dams, water subdivisions, and urbanization combined with drought.” 

The petition went on to highlight that “dace habitat has also been destroyed or modified by roads, agricultural activities, pollution, livestock grazing, mining, and recreation.” No petition findings have been made yet and the petition to list the Santa Ana speckled dace under the endangered species act is still active. 

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, “more than 80% of California’s native freshwater fishes are in decline, an indication of the degrading quality and quantity of freshwater habitats throughout the state. Thirty-three of its freshwater fish species are formally listed as threatened or endangered, and seven native fish species have gone extinct.” The culprits behind this threat to freshwater fish are people themselves. According to the World Wildlife Fund, human activities have contributed to the decline of freshwater fish around the

world, including the construction of dams, overfishing, and pollution being dumped into freshwater habitats. 

Again, according to the World Wildlife Fund, “dams fracture rivers across the world,” which prevents the circulations of fish, bacteria, and other nutrients from filtering in and out a body of water. The non-profit organization goes on to explain that “overfishing… [is] devastating freshwater fish populations and the climate crisis is especially difficult for fish that can’t tolerate changes in temperature.” 

On March 2, 2021, the nonprofit organization, California Trout, released a statement detailing how “a recent global assessment, released by 16 conservation organizations, of the world’s freshwater fish species found that nearly a third are at risk of extinction.” California Trout sees this global assessment as a “call to action” to help prevent freshwater fish populations from declining further in California and around the world. 

“We must act now. We must take bold, scientifically informed, and innovative actions to improve the resilience of our native salmon, steelhead, and trout and the waters upon which we all depend,” California Trout asserted. 

A continuous decline of California’s freshwater fish populations could diminish the amount of revenue freshwater fisheries, and recreational fishing brings to the United States. The World Wildlife Fund provides that, “In the US alone, freshwater fisheries generate $38 billion in revenue and recreational fishing brings in another $100 billion per year, pumping much-needed cash into local and national economies, and boosting employment.” Since freshwater fish are “essential for the healthy functioning of our rivers, lakes, and wetlands,” according to Carmen Revenga of The Nature Conservancy, the decline of freshwater fish would ultimately result in a decline in healthy freshwater habitats around the world.

Nevertheless, there still is an opportunity to reverse the population decline. The World Wildlife Fund suggests that “real progress will only be achieved through collective action involving governments, businesses, investors, NGOs, and communities.”